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Combat Conditioning

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“Clone Commander 2224, what happened next?” Senator Organa asked flatly.

I took a deep breath. They had told me over and over again what to say. I was just following orders. I knew how to do that. It was practically all I had done, my whole life. “General Kenobi had returned to our staging area after engaging Grievous. He reported a clean kill. Then he proclaimed to me, ‘Death to the Republic! The Jedi will rule the galaxy.’” Gasps went up around the Senate chamber, “I asked him what he meant by it. He said that now that the war was over, the Jedi would be free to start their coup. He told me that the clones could join them. I assessed the threat and told him that I would do what I had to do to protect the Republic. He then fled the scene on his varactyl. We fired on him and he fell from the wall of the sinkhole. We found the animal, but Kenobi’s body was not recovered.”

“Thank you, Commander. And thank you for your service.” The Emperor smiled at me. I stood up to go.

“The committee next calls Clone Commander 5052 of the 327th Corps.” Mas Amedda announced. I walked out as my brother Bly came in, wearing his olive green uniform, his cheeks with the yellow tattoos looked sunken. He sat down in the witness chair and swore in.

“CC-5052, do you recall the events of May 20th on Felucia?”

I walked out before I could hear his answer. I knew what it would be. They had coached us all together. We had to say the same thing, the Jedi asked us to join a coup. We assessed the threat. We fired on them because, with their powers, they were a threat to us and a threat to the Republic we had sworn to uphold. We were devoted to our duty as servants of the Senate and People.

Outside the senate chamber, I saw some of my other brothers waiting in the hall. My brother Jag, looking strange out of his pilot’s gear. In his cloth uniform, he reminded me of how his unit’s commander Wolffe used to look. That brother actually never liked wearing his armor. Commanders Neyo, Bacara, and Grey sat on a bench side by side. Other officers from other battalions. We had all been told what to say. We all knew what we had to do. To protect our brothers. To protect ourselves. To protect the Republic…no, the Empire.

The Chancellor, no the Emperor, promised that once the trials were over, we clones would be found to have acted bravely and we would be acquitted and rewarded. We would then be the leaders of the new Stormtrooper corps. We would establish and shape the corps, as our own creation and domain. It would be something that belonged to us, like a legacy, we would be like a real people with descendants. This would mean that our lives and our service had mattered. I was on the verge of achieving all my brother Rex and I had ever dreamed of for us clones. I wished he was there.

Rex had died recently. That was one of the worst things that had happened in the war, a waste of a great talent, a waste of a great man. He had been coming undone, saying all kinds of strange things, having thoughts that bordered on treason. I think he had finally cracked under extreme stress. Umbara had been hard on him, I know. Then some of his guys losing their minds after an illness from a Vindese parasite. His outfit, the 501st, had had more than its share of tragedy.

He’d been my best brother. I missed him the way he used to be. We agreed about a lot of things. We both agreed that we should defend the Republic like we were born to do, we did it proudly. But we also thought we should have more, too. Rex endorsed rebellion to demand rights. I found that diplomacy, working within the system, was the better option. Fewer people got hurt. I thought he had sabotaged himself. He had so much potential. He just didn’t have any vision of the long term. His convictions and desires were confined to such basic things. He just kept asking why we couldn’t have our autonomy instead of making plans for how to get it.

I’d played the game. I had done everything they’d asked me to. I made sure to keep my nose clean and never get caught breaking the rules. My loyalty to duty could therefore never be questioned. It would play well once I became a public figure. I knew that things were finally going to change. Finally, clones like me would be able to make the rules. Then things would be better. We just needed to wait a little bit. I was fine with that. I am an extremely patient clone.

I sat down next to my brothers to wait in the hall. There were not enough benches provided, so a lot of us had to sit on the floor. We were used to a nomadic life, it didn’t bother us. I should have been relieved. I had testified first. It was over. Yet, somehow, all I felt was tired. I hadn’t slept in days. I had headaches. And nightmares had come back, not like the old ones I had during the war, but new ones that were in some ways worse. They had me anxious. I worried that the politicians would find some way to cheat me out of what I was promised.

--

Patience has always been something that has served me. When I was raised on Kamino, lots of my brothers had short fuses. We were engineered to be aggressive. A lot of us had a kind of nervous energy or grew bored easily. We were kept in line with conditioning and threat of punishment. But I was different. I was much more even tempered. In fights and competitions, I could wait out an opponent. I was calm and waited for the other guy to strike first, to have his head clouded by his emotions, to make mistakes. Then I could dispatch him. In the early days, opponents were always my brothers, so they were easy to read. My patience allowed me to out-think everybody.

On Kamino, I had idolized our teachers, Mandalorian trainers, seasoned warriors. I took all the optional classes they taught, different types of traditional combat, and language. Brothers who did these optionals were considered kind of nerdy. I didn’t care. I had notebooks filled with armor designs, house crests, clan colors, names of famous warriors, even my own Mando’a poetry. It was bad, but I was actually writing it. This was downright cultured for a clone warrior. I knew every tradition, every myth, every epic poem, all the history. I was obsessed with my teachers. I wanted so much to be one of them.

The trainers fought, a lot. They had rules and codes of conduct for their fights. They used them to settle disputes or as friendly activities to pass the time. We created competitions based on theirs, which were demonstrations of toughness and skill. They had names for their events, steeped in their heritage. We made up our own events. We didn’t really reach the point of naming them anything more than describing them, there were broad categories. There were physical challenges (tests of endurance or resistance to pain) and combat (actual one on one engagements, usually violent). Some were really creative.

The Kaminoans called them ‘Invented Rituals of Competition’. They only named them to forbid them. But we still had them anyway. We needed them. Winning at these competitions was something that had to be earned among us. We were all so equal that nothing else could be measured. All of our basic needs were met. We were clothed and fed, exercised and treated medically. There was technically nothing else we needed to survive. We early batches weren’t allowed possessions or to modify our appearances. So competition was what we had to differentiate us. Competing was how we separated the stronger specimens from the crowd of clones.

The IRC’s gave us stories to tell, just like the Mandalorians had. They had a rich culture filled with heroic tales. We were a warrior culture without any real great deeds yet, we’d never left Kamino and hadn’t seen any action. We needed something. A guy who was good at IRC’s could expect glory. If you could win, glory could be lucrative. It made you famous. Brothers would just come up to you and punch your shoulder, smiling and telling you how great you’d done. Everyone knew your name. Everyone wanted to be your friend. Nearly all the Leadership Academy trainees had been IRC champions. Champions made good Leadership Cadets because through our experience, we had gained the confidence to speak our minds and received deference from our peers.

The Mandalorians encouraged IRC’s. They’d gamble on the outcomes and would argue about whose student could beat the others. That could be a point of honor among them and among us. Our trainers even participated sometimes for fun.

In rituals involving violence, I was a champion of everything. My patience gave me focus, but I also trained hard and studied techniques. I was widely read in combat theory. The optional traditional combat classes had helped. I was also quick and strong. My trainers were so proud of me. They said I was the equal to any Mandalorian in strength and toughness. They said they’d love to have me in battle. When I was older, I beat a few of them in IRC’s.

I didn’t see much point in the silly physical challenges. Mostly we did those because guys liked to laugh at the participants. It was funny to see guys pass out, or push themselves to the point of throwing up. We had always been hit or kicked by our trainers for discipline, as children were raised in Mandalorian culture. So I didn’t think I had to prove how much I could endure. I could take more punishment than any of my brothers. And dish out more too.

I beat more than a few of my brothers in one on one free form individual combat. Polite term for a fight, but with rules. It is an IRC, so there are rules. The rules are, a ref watches and makes sure you get separated before you kill the other guy. The Kamnioans would have been appalled, but I was never disciplined for it. My brothers and trainers never reported me. We had a code about that.

The Kaminoans liked me because outside the ring, I was respectful. I adhered to the rules to the letter. IRC’s were the only forbidden things I allowed myself. They were based on Mandalorian culture, so they weren’t wrong. The Kaminoans outlawed them just didn’t want us physically damaged, but they didn’t want the alternative, trust me. We would have killed each other out of boredom without these rituals.

--

My squad had been branded elite and I was selected for leadership training at the end of third year. Leadership training was practically my domain. I was first in everything. I was competitive to distraction. I was the ideal leader. Calm and measured. I didn’t talk frivolously. But I was not afraid to speak, I had convictions. I had dignity. I repeatedly professed my devotion to duty. I read and practiced constantly. I took the optionals. I was what some of the Leadership Academy guys called a ‘spaz’.

My sleeping drawer from the first day in the leadership academy was next to Wolffe. He called me a spaz all the time. When I met him the first day, I was surprised, he seemed quiet and somewhat shy. He was well-known as the champion of any IRC involving food. He could eat the most of things or eat unpalatable things without throwing up. I had seen him eat insects that people found outside during skeet practice or some of the food for the massif guard hounds. He was popular because everyone liked to laugh. He was really smart and talented, but sometimes he could be lazy. He retained things easily, so he could afford to slack off and he’d still do better on tests or at skills than most other guys. I tried to tell him to be more serious. His questions were so strange. He was obsessed with asking things like, ‘Is the galaxy what they describe?’ ‘Is the Republic real?’ ‘Is anyone really coming for us?’ I couldn’t see why he didn’t believe it, he had no faith in anything. He doubted even the most fundamental truths we knew. It seemed irreverent. But we had some good debates. That was why he was my friend, I liked how he kept my mind sharp. It helped me to clarify my beliefs. It makes me sad sometimes what a mess he turned into. It was not all his fault, he had some really bad experiences early in the war. I always kept him as my friend, even when he was brought so low.

Our ranks in leadership would be determined by different factors. Elite clones were going to graduate as commanders, the highest clone rank in the army. Those with lower scores could graduate as captains, then sergeants. The only way to move up in rank was to have those above you die. Officers didn’t die as often so a commander might expect to be a commander for life. During the war, some clones were recruited before graduation. That meant that they had to take a lower rank at commission. That’s what happened to my brother Rex.

He was six months behind me in the leadership academy. For his level, his scores were the highest, as mine had been. He took all the optionals, he professed his devotion to duty, he worked hard, he was a standout. I was actually impressed with him, he reminded me of me. I foresaw a bright future for him, even after all he’d overcome.

Rex had come from a half batch. He spent his first year of life in a nursery cell being tended to by droids, like we all did. We all interacted at play time together, but like us, he shared a room with his batch. In Rex’s batch, only two were normal. The other three had birth defects. Bad batchers, clones who had physical or mental defects from the cloning process, were not good for anything but serving those of us who didn’t have flaws. That’s what we were taught anyway, that was how the Kaminoans separated us. The Kaminoans told us how the world was structured, even if we didn’t like it, we didn’t have a choice. But when you spend your first year of nursery with four other beings, you bond with them.

Rex didn’t have a full batch in second year when they went into combat conditioning, so he went with a bunch of guys he didn’t know. His other batch mate was sent to another group and re-designated. We all looked at guys like that and felt sorry for them. He was lucky, his new squad liked him.

He had won them over because he was the toughest at combat conditioning. Combat conditioning was the primary purpose of our second year. Day after day, the Kaminoans led us into these simulator chambers. Each chamber had levels that could be raised or lowered, they started easy but increased the stressors. With early batches like mine, which was first, they experimented with the levels. Some of us were scarred permanently, branded defective and euthanized. Some of us died in there. Inside the chambers we were put through sensory experiences, loud or unpleasant noises, bad smells, disturbing images, pain. Everything that you could expect on the battlefield. They were trying to desensitize us. They never could make these things not affect us, but we had to withstand them or we would be punished. But we learned to obey orders despite the stressors, we became almost helpless to do anything but. We couldn’t control when they started or stopped. We were second years, so we looked like normal children, younglings about five standard years. They would put us in these simulators, every day, for hours. The pain was the worst. The mental ones gave you nightmares. Guys would come out of there trembling at least, a lot of us cried, some would throw up, some would piss or crap themselves. Then we’d all clean up and go to lunch or lights out as if we were normal kids.

Rex was insanely good at withstanding all this. He’d come out of the simulator and act like none of it bothered him at all. It must have, but he’d tell his brothers behind him that it wasn’t so bad, and he could actually convince them. His concern for his brothers was impressive. It made him popular.

But when you have bad batchers in your family, brothers associate you with them. They call you defective, they make fun of you. He got taunted a lot, I know. Not by me, like I said, I didn’t speak much. I was strong. I didn’t need to rely on making fun of other guys to make myself feel better. But like with the conditioning, Rex never responded, he just ignored it.

Then one day he found some brothers bullying his batch mates by the kitchen and he started a fight. I hadn’t seen the fight, it hadn’t lasted long, but everybody heard about it. Little guy had finally cracked. I guessed even he had his limits. His squad mates had jumped in to defend him. From then on, he had gotten a taste of leadership, for the rest of his life, he was always telling other guys how to behave. Anything from making peace when brothers had disputes to the proper way to brush teeth. He never did IRC’s. He’d keep watch out so nobody would get caught at them. He never ratted, like I said, we had a code about that. But he never broke rules himself at all.

Now, one of his batch mates had been born without legs. The guy would move himself around on his hands. After nursery year, this brother was assigned kitchen detail. Rex would go to his brother’s barracks to pick him up and carry him on his back to the kitchen. He had to get up early to do it so that he made it back in time for training. We said they looked like a flea being carried on the back of a hound. So, we called the brother Myte, while Rex was named after a common name for massif guard dogs. Rex never showed that he was ashamed of his nickname, even if it was insulting. I don't know if he really knew why we called him that.

Anyway, Rex made leadership training. We all knew he would. I didn’t talk much to underclassmen, but I’d see him in the optionals like with a lot of other guys. Later, when I was in my eighth year, an accident killed some of our brothers in leadership training as they were on maneuvers over the ocean. Rex saved two injured brothers, despite being ordered to not risk it and to get himself back, since he was still intact. After that, our Mandalorian teachers gave him jaig eyes on his helmet. Jaig eyes were given for extreme valor in Mandalorian culture. All my years of studying Mandalorian culture, I can’t tell you how much significance I attributed to that award. None of the rest of us were allowed to even have anything on our armor to distinguish us. I was barely able to contain my envy. I practically had to hang my head as I passed him in the hallway, just to not see those eyes. He never bragged about it, he just wore that damned helmet and when he wasn’t wearing it, he was carrying it under his arm like he was displaying it. I avoided him after that.

--

I was not the first clone commander recruited out of Kamino, but I was at the top of the list. The only guys who got chosen before me were all veterans of Geonosis, so they had precedence. But those guys were selected in haste when Jedi General Yoda had shown up suddenly, needing immediate assistance. Literally, it was the guys closest to the door that went to Geonosis. Once the war had started, I had the distinction of being the first clone commander who was actually selected once the army was organized. My Jedi general had put his request in immediately after his return from Geonosis to Coruscant. My general was the famous Obi-Wan Kenobi who had come to Kamino to tell us that we would be shipping out soon.

He told me later that one way or another, we clones were going to get out of Kamino now that the Republic and the Jedi knew we existed. If the war hadn’t started, he had intended to lead the Jedi back to Kamino and free us, then we could have been resettled on land on a new world to start new lives. But the war had started and the Republic needed us. So we went to our purpose. Resettled. Heh. To do what? To be a farmer or something? Now where was the fun in that?

I had seen Kenobi that first day when he went on a tour of the cloning facilities. I was actually the only clone he spoke to. He had asked to meet a clone and I had been branded the most impressive example of their product. I scored the highest on the tests, I had studied every subject available to us, I was at the top of my class in leadership training, and I was completely devoted to the Republic. I was the example they wanted to show him.

The Kaminoans brought him in to a classroom where I was teaching loyalty class. The Kaminoans had taught all of us clones daily lessons in loyalty. Why the Republic was always right, why The Enemy was always wrong. We’d ask questions about the Republic and the Kaminoans would answer. Then they’d discuss how to structure an argument. Then we would write essays. I still remember the titles. ‘Why the Republic is Right about Loyalty’, ‘Why the Republic is Right about Honor’, ‘Why the Republic is Right about Government’, ‘Why the Republic is Right about Population Control”, “Why the Republic is Right about Food Consumption,” “Why the Republic is Right about Bathing”. I never had to ask questions anywhere else. Everything was told to me. It made perfect sense. It gave me a code of conduct upon which to base my decisions. I had learned it so well that I was the primary teacher of loyalty in the cadet academy in my last year in the facility.

I was presenting before a room full of hundreds of third years. I was a strict teacher, but the students obviously respected me. Everyone was sitting, looking straight ahead, giving me their undivided attention. Kenobi came in and the Kaminoans called me over. I asked the class to excuse me and ordered them to read aloud from the textbooks together.

Besides our trainers, Jango and Boba Fett, and the Kaminoans, Kenobi was the first sentient I’d ever seen. I knew what he was, though. We had had instruction about the Jedi and how they appeared.

Taun We presented me and spoke in that watery fashion, “Master Kenobi, this is Clone Commander,” she looked at the number on my uniform, “2224.” Although I had had a name for seven years, Kaminoans never used them. They really couldn’t tell the difference between us, they needed the numbers. Only we and our Mandalorian trainers used the names. Most nicknames were assigned in third year, when we had started our formal training. We were introduced to new concepts and animals and objects, so we started giving each other names because we had so many new words that we could apply to each other. That was when our trainers had arrived and I started learning Mando’a as well. I was the only one in my squad batch taking language. I named myself and all my guys in Mando’a. Our nicknames were the coolest ones. Most nicknames were degrading, they came from teasing each other. Clone humor is very self-deprecating. Ours weren’t. ‘Cody’ is a phonetic version of ‘kote’, which means ‘glory.’

Kenobi held out his hand. That is an ambiguous gesture in clone society. It can mean something like a greeting, but only used among friends. I didn’t even know Kenobi. The other meaning we attributed to it was a gesture of aggression. You could easily jab someone in the gut with your extended fingers. Not enough to hurt much, but it could be used to get a guy to double over so you could give him a knee to the face. But Kenobi was a non-clone, we weren’t allowed to touch non-clones, not even Boba. So I just stood there. I was well conditioned.

“Hello, CC-2224. So you’re a teacher as well as a warrior? Do you enjoy reading?” he asked, retracting his hand.

“Enjoy, sir?” I really didn’t understand. We did what we were told.

“What do you prefer to learn about?”

“My own teachers here have been primarily Mandalorian. I enjoy learning about their history and culture.”

He stroked his beard. “Kandosii.” He said. It was a phrase that meant, ‘Classy’ or something like it. It was some respect. But he was also putting me in my place. He thought I didn’t actually understand. Or maybe it was a test.

“Gar serim,” I said. ‘That’s right.’

So that’s when we switched into Mandalorian fully. I had studied hard and practiced with my trainers. I was good at it and I knew I was. The Kaminoans didn’t understand a word, which was a remarkable amount of freedom for me to be able to speak without being scrutinized. He asked me about the conditions in the facility, asked whether we were being held against our wills. I told him I had never known of anywhere else to go. We were born in that facility and raised there. The furthest we had ever gone was to ride ships out over the Kamino oceans. I told him we were bred for a coming war to protect the Republic, which we considered a sacred duty in our culture. He asked whether we knew what Jedi were, since they would be leading us. I told him that we knew that’s what he was and that we were prepared to obey their every command.

Taun We looked nervous since we had been talking so long. Kenobi told me it had been good to meet me. “Ret’urcye mhi,” I said, ‘Goodbye’ or ‘maybe we’ll meet again.’

I was notified of my posting a week later. No one was surprised when I was Kenobi’s choice for commander of his 212th Battalion. I put together my outfit, the guys with the best numbers in their skills. We had chips in our left arms with all of our information, including the price paid for us. Mine was five times that of a regular soldier.

We had done so many drills on mobilizing for war that we could have the ships packed up in no time. I was one of the first to go, on the cruiser with Wolffe’s battalion, 104th. I was ready. I didn’t expect to get air sickness while I was watching takeoff on the bridge. I was standing next to Wolffe, who was high on so many stolen pills from the infirmary that he was near catatonic staring at the horizon. I had to make a run for it. The bathrooms weren’t as clean as in Kamino, but I couldn’t be picky. I lost my breakfast rations right in the toilet. I adapted to space travel quickly after that, but it was a memorable first experience.

At Central Command on Coruscant, our shuttle descended to the planet.

“What is General Kenobi like, Sir?” Longshot asked.

I had only spoken to him briefly, but I had an impression at least. All of the clones had heard of him since his tour of the facility. It was the day that changed everything. “He’s a man worthy of respect.” We landed and the ramp lowered. I took off my helmet, “CC-2224, Commander Cody, reporting for duty, General.” I saluted.

“Su cuy’gar, Al’verde,” ‘Hello Commander’.

“Su cuy’gar, Jetii Kenobi,” ‘Hello Jedi Kenobi.’

Kenobi looked even more impressive than I remembered. He carried his weapon and wore white armor on his chest and arms based on ours, which was a modified Mandalorian form. He had a younger man with him, dressed in the regalia of a padawan learner. General Kenobi, a teacher and a warrior, just like me.

“This is my padawan, Commander Skywalker.”

“Ner vod,” Anakin said to me. ‘My brother’. To be honest, the guy looked like he was a juvenile, and not even a very serious one. But he ranked the same as I did so I reminded myself to treat him with respect. He adopted the same cross armed stance the general had. Kenobi looked at him with lowered eyebrows. Skywalker punched Kenobi on the arm and grinned at the general as he watched the pilots descend. I found out that Skywalker had been assigned command over the air assault on Muunilist in a few weeks and he was enjoying his first posting of the war. He had the stupid grin of a guy who is exiting his first brothel.

The padawan commander took the pilots out for maneuvers above the planet. From what I heard, he was a terrific pilot. We had a time running simulations for the General at Central Command, our new base on Coruscant. He stood there quietly over the simulator, stroking his beard and concentrating. Patient. He pointed out a lot of details and noticed a lot of things about each of the men. It took no time before he and I were working in sync together. We were serious and focused, it was perfect.

We had leave that night in Coruscant, just some time to have some fun. General Kenobi said that he didn’t recommend getting too drunk or wild because we could get in trouble. He made sure we all knew about the rules of the Binks-Palpatine Military Creation Act. Under the MCA , we were not technically allowed to do things like consume non-government issued substances including food, drink, or drugs. We were not permitted to fraternize with civilians, which excluded only the Jedi. We were not permitted to earn our own money (through jobs or gambling) or own any property not issued to us (so no shopping). Establishments that violated these rules would pay a fine. We would be arrested and sent to commanding officers for punishment with either brig time or additional duty.

Kenobi told us that he understood that some infractions would be tolerated, but that we should be very cautious and polite. He told the men that being upright would keep us safer and would make sure that no one would have cause to think badly of us. Some of the guys whined. I made sure my brothers understood that I would personally treat every infraction that was called to my attention as serious and that I would give the maximum punishments. None of my men would be embarrassing me.

Many came back with new haircuts or tattoos. I was worried, but General Kenobi assured me the next day that clones were allowed to distinguish their appearances. It did not violate the MCA and the Jedi wanted to encourage individuality as much as possible. This was allowed under the law as it was. I considered it myself, but in the end, I kept my academy look. It was more serious. I did have my armor decorated in our field color, orange. The design was impressive. One of my guys, Waxer had a talent for decorating armor. The design made me instantly recognizable. Brothers moved aside as I walked through the ranks.

“If the clones can modify their looks, then why can’t I?” Skywalker asked when he saw us.

“I allow you to choose those atrocious combinations for Jedi regalia, don’t I,” Kenobi answered. They bickered constantly. I found it somewhat disruptive to be honest. I had expected Jedi to be more respectful.

“You wish you had my fashion sense, Old Man.” Skywalker clapped him on the back.

“Oh, indeed. Leather. So practical.”

I didn’t get most of their jokes. They acted like brothers, rather than a teacher and student. I don’t even think I let my brothers talk to me the way they spoke to each other.

We finally shipped out three weeks into the war, not much time for a lot of training, but we had been training for war our whole lives. Muunilist went well, all things considered. I had taken some shelling of our forward command center, where I ended up getting some facial scars. Didn’t damage any features, they really looked more decorative and tough than any tattoo. I didn’t need to give in to vanity, by cutting my hair into ridiculous patterns or putting a symbol on me. I had earned my distinctive appearance. Everyone would know that I was not a clone to be messed with.

After that battle, Skywalker got promoted. He became a general with a full command but would still be working closely with us. I thought at least I’d be out from under another commander. I was looking forward to the kid picking a clone commander who I liked. Certainly someone who would respect my higher status as the officer with seniority. I was a veteran and the new commander would be a shiny right out of the academy. I would be able to teach him everything I knew. Skywalker was allowed to pick any clone commander he wanted and he picked Rex. Because of course he would.

I met Rex again at the Jedi Temple for our joint planning for Christophsis when I was fresh off the shuttle from Sarrish. Rex hadn’t even finished his last year at the academy. He was a damned captain. But Skywalker picked him anyway. I was concerned about his qualifications. I let Kenobi know.

“Well, that’s Anakin for you. He seems to enjoy making choices that are unexpected.” Kenobi didn’t sound upset about it. He sounded almost proud.

Skywalker walked in wearing his new armor, the same as Kenobi's only black. Always had to be different, that one. Rex was right beside him, thankfully still in his new blank shiny armor. I relaxed.

Talking to him, I remembered how talented Rex was. He knew his stuff, he was prepared, he was confident, and could defend his positions. It made me proud that we were brothers. Moreover, he was extremely respectful to me. After the briefing, we all interacted casually. I stayed quiet and dignified. I noticed he had a nervous energy. He was still the only shiny in the room and he knew it. He wasn’t bragging or being a poser, like some guys would, trying to convince us that he had experience he didn’t. Instead, he seemed to be curious about things and he looked to us to teach him. He seemed pleasantly surprised by what he saw on Coruscant as he discovered and tried things for the first time. He really enjoyed himself. I felt like an indulgent older brother who might want his younger brother to be less embarrassing, but loved him anyway. It was hard not to enjoy his innocent enthusiasm. Of course he put those jaig eyes on his helmet the first chance he got, but by then, it didn’t even bother me. After that, it was off to Christophsis, then Teth, then Tiprin, and on and on. We went through a lot together, my little brother and me.

One time, on the Rishi moon, we were doing an inspection tour when a battalion of droids took over and some brothers were hiding awaiting orders. We wanted to get into the listening station so Rex got this droid head and waved it in front of the door camera like a puppet and just asked to be let in. I thought there was no way that even droids could be that stupid. But I underestimated droids. They opened the door and we blew them to pieces. Roger, roger! Man, Rex was funny. He made me look dignified by comparison.

Under Skywalker’s influence, though, Rex became less disciplined. We all had to relax our stances on obeying every rule of conduct, it would have been impossible to maintain, even the government knew that. So pretty quickly, there were places we could go. They had 79’s, a clone bar for us on Coruscant, some other establishments with girls. I kept away from the whores myself and encouraged my guys to do the same. The police wouldn’t bother us in our places, so it was safe to disobey the rules, I told my men on shore leave to stick to those places. Our generals even started coming to 79’s sometimes to visit us. All Skywalker ever did was flout the MCA. He’d hang out with his clones, take them places with him where he could go and insisted they be let in. He liked the entourage, I think. I had never even accepted an invitation to the Jedi commissary. I wanted people to know that I obeyed Binks-Palpatine. So I never disobeyed anywhere that I would have been seen by non-clones. I wouldn’t have been able to enforce rules if I didn’t stick to them. I enforced the rules as Kenobi asked me to. He said that it was important because it would keep us safe. No one would bother us then and our reputation would always be above suspicion. He had a point. Some rules, though, are harder to obey than others.

--

General Skywalker received a message while we were aboard ship together after the Second Battle of Geonosis. That engagement had been epic. After, Skywalker was in command of my unit while General Kenobi was handling a delicate situation with terrorists on Mandalore. Skywalker was told to put together a small security detail of guys from the 212th and the 501st to escort the Duchess of Mandalore to Coruscant. It would mean some leave time on both ends, so I was glad to be recruited. Most importantly, I’d get to see Mandalore. It was a lifelong dream. Skywalker dropped us on the planet and made a quick run over to I think he said Naboo before we had to report. My brothers and I were put up at a fancy hotel while the Duchess’s ship was being prepared for the journey. The other guys wanted to go have some fun out on the town. Mine knew to behave. Rex had researched the city and had some ideas about where to go, which he passed along to his men. He was always fussing over them. Skywalker had even given them extra credits so Rex passed them out to his guys. He reminded them to watch out for each other. He acted like those guys were kids.

Rex and I went to the Armory Museum. It was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen, so many of my childhood stories come to life. I could have stayed in there all day, but Rex started complaining that he was hungry. He was always hungry when we were on leave. Admittedly, the Republic Nutrition Rations were terrible. But he had the worst taste in food. He barely had any sense of smell. He had permanently scarred the inside of his nose doing cleaning duty as a kid in Tipoca. We all had to do it, the disinfectant was really harsh smelling. But Rex did a lot more than other guys. He always helped his squad mates clean if they were punished with cleaning duty. He said it meant that he took responsibility for them and considered their failure partly his. Man, he could be a martyr.

So I indulged him. We went out for real Mandalorian food, since the neutral planet had no rules restricting our behavior the way there were in the Republic. Admittedly, Mandalore's is not a proud culinary tradition. A lot of things were based on meals that could be prepared on campaign, but so many of the dishes and ingredients were mentioned in the literature I’d studied. I was really excited about eating the real things. I was even able to order in the language. I spoke to the waitress, I joked with her. Rex had studied Mando’a, but he wasn’t as good, so he couldn’t keep up. The waitress was cute. I know I could have kept talking to her. But Rex just kept pointing out how people were looking at us as if we weren’t welcome in there. I asked him what he expected. The New Mandalorians who ruled the planet were pacifists. They’d probably never seen professional soldiers before.

Once we were aboard ship, we were introduced to the passengers and their staffs. Duchess Satine had a personal bodyguard with her. New Mandalorian warriors. They had been trained on Mandalore in all the old fighting styles, they also used modern weapons. Most warrior houses had been exiled. Those had been my teachers. But the guard were genuine Mandalorian warriors of an ancient and respected order, the Protectors. I was in awe. They were mostly guys, but there was one female. I found her fascinating. I couldn’t stop looking at her.

I spoke to the bodyguards as we coordinated on security before the ship took off. I had the language skills, even though they all spoke Basic, we planned the whole thing in Mando’a and I passed along the orders to my brothers. As the meeting broke up, I complimented the woman.

“Mesh’la beskar’gam.” ‘Beautiful armor.’ Their armor was an ancient design that had been retained by her order and never updated because of its prestige. It was blue, like her eyes.

“Vor entye,” ‘Thank you.’ She actually smiled.

That night, I was on sentry duty in a corridor. She found me and beckoned me to follow. She stopped next to a door and whispered, “Come here.”

I took off my helmet and walked to her, holding my blaster. “Is there something you need, Captain?”

“Yes. So you’re a clone?” She seemed to regard me with some interest that I couldn’t understand. Something like excitement.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“I’ve never seen one of you before today,” she hit the panel for her door and pulled me into her room. She practically ruined my armor ripping at it. In the end, I took it off for her.

I emerged from the room a few hours later trying to suppress the stupid grin on my face. Finally, I just put the damned helmet back on.

We met again after the voyage. She invited me to her hotel on Coruscant. I had to wait in the lobby until she came down to get me. They didn't let me go up, even when she showed them her diplomatic I.d. and told them I was a friend. So she snuck me up.

I was there a few days. I was in fear every minute that I’d be caught. This was a huge infraction, I had never done something so deliberately wrong. I didn’t care. It was such a rush. I thought she was worth it. Everything about her was so amazing. She was educated and had traveled. She was sophisticated and smart. And every day was pleasure like I’d never known. She had chosen me. She made me feel like a king. I began to forget about everything else in my life and to wonder how I could feel like that all the time.

Then, she had to go back on duty. I told her I wanted to see her again. She laughed. “Oh, come on, Cody, when are we ever going to be able to see each other? This was just a little fling. I had a nice time, but it’s over.”

“But you know the kind of trouble I risked to see you? If my general found out, or my men, I would be completely disgraced! I could have even been court martialed for this. You know if they find a clone defective for excessive disobedience, he can be euthanized. I could have died for you!”

She waved a hand, “I don’t know what you want me to tell you. I mean, I never lied to you, I never led you to believe I was serious. Stop being so immature.” That was how she saw me. That was how she made me feel. I really was like that old clone stereotype, juvenile and unsophisticated. But I’d never had a girl before, I didn’t have enough experience to be mature about it. How could I, where I was from? I felt totally insulted and humiliated. And that’s how she left me. I promised myself that nobody was going to be able to hurt me again.

My brother Rex saw how miserable I looked and took me out for some drinks at 79’s. He didn’t ask what I was upset about. He just tried to cheer me up. He left early, though, said he had to be up early for duty. He had gone back to work early because he said he got bored on leave time with nothing to do. I didn’t, I stayed and drank. After leave time, I returned to work, the same as before. I was still a strict commander. After all, what had happened to me, I needed to put behind me.

But I couldn’t just go back to feeling like I had before. I’d had my pride because of my perfect virtue and adherence to duty. I had given it up for someone unworthy. I couldn’t be proud of myself the same as before. I knew what I’d done, even if other people didn’t. I was weak. I didn’t like what I saw when I looked at myself. After a while, it just became easier to tell myself that it had been her fault. She had seduced me, I hadn’t started it. Women couldn’t be trusted. I didn’t need her.

It bothered me, though. I couldn’t stop thinking about women. I bought a visit to the bathroom with C.C. the best whore the army had. I gave it to her rough, too. Somehow, that made me feel a little bit better. At least I didn’t feel weak anymore.

I didn’t want to be a hypocrite, so I told my guys that they could use whores and I wouldn’t punish them. They were stupid with excitement. The ladies made a ton of money that night, I’m sure.

--

I met Rex on Kamino. I was wrapping up some training with my new recruits. He was back from a brief leave on Coruscant with Echo and Fives, his new ARC Troopers. He got off the transport, eating some kind of salted chips made out of jumbo krill from Mon Cala. They had a cartoon Mon Cal on the bag.

“Captain Rex, good to see you back,” General Shaak Ti greeted him.

“Good to be back. You know what they say about Kamino, ‘Come for the clones, stay for the weather.’ Are the recruits ready?” That joke was ridiculous. What had gotten into him, I wondered.

“They are running the obstacle course for morning warmup. They are ready to meet you at simulator three afterwards.” She bowed and left us.

We walked towards the officers’ barracks. He punched my arm, “So good to see you, how are you?”

“I just saw you a week ago.”

“But I missed you anyway, vod'ori!” He called me ‘big brother’. His pronunciation was unsophisticated, but I got the impression he was doing it on purpose to annoy me.

“I have you staying in the drawer next to me,” I told him.

“Aw, I thought we’d snuggle up in one. I really did miss you.” He was laughing. I suddenly figured out what was the matter with him. He had that stupid grin on his face.

“You look like you finally made your way over to the Tchun Tchin.” He had never been to the brothel before. He was one of the last holdouts for the fraternizing rule. I was doing it every chance I got.

“Nah.” He kept grinning and offered me a chip.

“Ugh, those smell awful! Where does General Skywalker keep getting this disgusting food to give you on transports from Coruscant?”

“He has a friend that owns a restaurant. She’s really nice.”

I was suddenly worried for my brother. A pro was one thing, it was as simple as buying food, that was just satisfying a basic need. This was dangerous. When guys thought about things other than duty, like money or women, it could be a problem. That was why we had Binks-Palpatine. Rex and I had seen a brother paid off on Christophsis to turn spy for the Separatists. I didn’t want to see Rex make a similar mistake.

He was too giddy to see that it couldn’t go anywhere. He was a clone, that was the reality. The novelty would wear off and she’d realize that it wasn’t worth it. Who wants a guy that she can never see, who has no money, who will probably get her in trouble or at least looked down on, and who constantly risked death?

Don’t get me wrong, just because that’s how most girls saw us didn’t mean that I believed it was how we were, but we had to face the truth. His idealism was sweet, he and I really did both believe that we clones were worthy of what everyone else had. But he was a total idiot. Nobody was going to let him have those things, the way things were. You can’t persuade people to see it your way. They have to be made to. That needed time. He didn’t want to wait. His little rebellion was futile. The only way to get the things we lacked, like freedom, money, respect and a future, was by getting power to change things, to make things how you want them.

The politicians would have an easy time justifying their restrictions on us if they could have proved we were degenerate. Everybody already thought that all we did was bang whores on the street or in brothels. But what choice did they give us? They thought that we were violent or dangerous, but they had made us that way. They thought that we weren’t completely human, but what choice did we have about how we were created? How was that fair?

General Skywalker had told Rex to appeal to people’s compassion. If we could be brave, or smart, or have close friends, people would see that we were as human as they were. Rex had just taken it to the next level. If people could see us in love, and see that someone loved us, they would know that we were as human as they were. General Skywalker, still as young and flippant as he always was, had not done Rex any favors.

I had always pictured Rex and me as the new elite of clones. That in the future we would work together and be the leaders for our brothers. I thought we had a common purpose. Now he was thinking of throwing it away, like I had almost done. Somebody had to protect that brother from himself.

I reported him. Just to nip it in the bud. The army filed it, but I didn’t think they investigated it. At first.

--

It was after our mission to the Citadel that someone talked to me. Rex had come to Central Command and barely had time to get a shower before he and Wolffe were off to Felucia. General Kenobi stayed for some Jedi Council meetings and General Piell’s funeral. I was at Central Command running my men through drills when a transport arrived with some Senate Guard. We clones tended to not like those guys. They were all natural born, so they often treated us with arrogance.

“CC-2224?” the lead one addressed me.

“I’m Commander Cody, yes.” I found it disrespectful when people used my number. It reminded me that some people couldn’t tell us apart. I knew this guy probably couldn’t.

“The Supreme Chancellor would like a word with you.”

I wasn’t sure what to think. I had seen the guy before, I’d been on missions where he was around. But I had never spoken to him. What did he want with me?

I was brought to his office and the guard escorted me in. The place was as big as the mess hall on a star cruiser.

“Ah, Commander. It is good to meet you. Commander Sevo, I would like to speak to the Trooper, please give us a moment.” He dismissed his guard and beckoned me to a chair. I sat and perched my helmet on my lap. I was feeling nervous, but I sat very still. In my interactions, like in fights, I always let the other guy strike first. “Commander…Cody, is it?”

“Yes, Sir.” I kept my responses to a minimum. Waited him out.

“I have been hearing good things about you from my friend, Captain Tarkin. I wanted to congratulate you on the success of the mission.” We had rescued Tarkin from the Citadel, a Separatist prison. It had been a beast of a mission, I lost some of my best guys. The stress of preparing for it had given me terrible nightmares. I was barely sleeping. Nothing could relax me. Not even girls. I was having them, but it was never enough. It was getting frustrating, actually.

“Really, Sir? I’m honored.”

“He had high praise for all of you clones, he said that the mission wouldn’t have been a success without you. I foresee a bright future for the soldiers of the Republic.”

I couldn’t believe it. Here was the most powerful man in the galaxy and he was talking about our future. To me.

“Commander, I know that there are some forces in the Republic that find clones expendable, who think we should order more and throw you into battle, no matter the expense, and with no regard for your lives, and then do away with the army once there is no more war to fight. There was strong opposition to Senator Amidala’s proposal to allow clones to retire.”

“I…have heard some things to that effect, Sir.” I watched politics closely.

“Whereas, I foresee a different future. One where the Republic possesses a standing army to prevent such conflicts from happening again. A peacekeeping force, if you will.”

“Isn’t that the Jedi’s job?”

“The Jedi can’t be everywhere, their order is rather secretive and somewhat outside of Senate oversight. They mind their own affairs. I see no reason to object to them leading the army in a supervisory capacity, but they are easily distracted from Republic matters as they run off to battle such mythological entities as the ‘Sith’. Those creatures are the stuff of legend, they don’t exist anymore, but the Jedi have been insisting for a decade or more that they have returned. It is distracting us from our mission. I am thinking about how to end the war, but I am also thinking about restructuring. I’m thinking about an army loyal to the Republic and led by those who know it best.”

“Who were you thinking of?”

“Well, Commander, men like yourself. Men of principle, with experience and accomplishments, and with spotless records. Captain Tarkin has been researching your files, and those of your brother, Captain Rex.” We were already being vetted for positions of responsibility.

“Sir, this is an honor.”

“Of course, this is to be kept in the strictest confidence. Please don’t speak of it to anyone, not even Rex. I would like for us to meet regularly to discuss the way the army functions and any problems you foresee. Can you tell me, is your brother’s record as clean as yours, there is nothing, I trust, that could be…problematic.”

“I think he’s a good choice. Like me, he’s a clone who has pride in himself and his work. He doesn’t denigrate the institution he represents like some. He had some infractions on Kamino, just some disobedience citations. One fight when he was small. But he is rather principled, the things that the Kaminoans forbade will actually not bother the citizens of the Republic.” Compassion. I was taking a note from General Skywalker now. I was feeling bold. It was an adrenaline rush. “For example, he was cited by the Kaminoans because he saved some other injured clones. That was how he got his jaig eyes. I think the citizens of the Republic will find that heroic. Things like that will give the senators a harder time shooting down proposals for greater clone freedoms.” I was surprised how astute I had become in matters of public relations. I hadn't realized how much being a leader had given me confidence in my understanding of people.

“And what of the report that he was involved with a civilian?” I looked down and he had my report on his desk. No use denying it.

“Yes. I believe it was unfortunately something that General Skywalker talked him into. The woman was a friend of his. I felt it was ill advised. I had hoped that if investigators questioned my brother, he would be persuaded not to continue with it.”

“Do you…think he will try to continue with it? Some people can be so reckless where…personal matters are concerned. Anakin is young and can be very idealistic. But his popularity means he is indulged in his disobedience. But for the Captain, this is a delicate matter.”

“Well, old Rex can be really stubborn. He’d probably fight any efforts to tell him what to do. It’s probably nothing, though. I figure, the girl will just lose interest and he’ll come to his senses.”

“Maybe it would be best to persuade her that it is in her and the captain’s best interests.”

“He’s happiest when he’s at work. Give him a few months without leave and I’m sure it will be enough. Women are fickle.”

“Well, my boy, you are right about that,” he laughed.

I felt sorry that I had had to take away something that mattered to my little brother. I knew how he would feel. But he was going to destroy his future and mine. I told myself that what I did was humane.

The Chancellor and I spent the rest of the afternoon discussing my ideas about how to improve army efficiency and effectiveness. We were just two leaders making decisions. I never felt so respected in my life.

--

It was before the Umbara mission. I wasn’t sleeping. General Kenobi was putting me through intense preparations. He was nervous about the mission because of the shadier aspects of invading a planet. We wouldn’t be fighting droids but sentients. The stress was unbelievable. He wasn’t short tempered, per se, but he was not as patient as usual. He seemed sick most of the time, kept going on about ‘suffering’. What did he think war was, anyway?

My nightmares were getting worse. They were all variations on one theme. One night the dream was particularly vivid. I dreamed I was on the surface of a planet, probably the one the Citadel prison was on. Clone dead were everywhere, white armor blanketing the ground like a field of bones. There was dark rock, and lava, and raining ash. General Kenobi was there, he held up his light saber. He was coming at me with an animal look in his eyes. Something possessed my body. It felt just like when I had combat conditioning, where horrible sensations were all around me, but I had to stand in place. In the dream, I raised my blaster and shot him in the head. I was afraid of General Kenobi after that.

It had seemed too real. It felt like it had happened. I wondered, what if Kenobi was dangerous? He was astonishingly powerful, I saw that demonstrated every day. But how did I know that he’d always do good? He could have turned on us at any time, at a moment’s notice and my brothers would die by the hundreds. What if all the Jedi turned against us? Yes, they had always been supportive of us before, but how could we guarantee that they were all sane? Kenobi had looked so emotional lately, it was very uncharacteristic. I took my concerns to the Chancellor.

“Sir, I would like to know, have you ever considered the possibility?”

“Commander, the Jedi have served the Republic for a thousand generations.”

“Sir, I’m sure you’re right. But as a military man, I believe in preparedness. I just want to know if perhaps there might be some kind of fail-safes, just in case. You cannot be reckless with the security of the Republic.”

“Commander, you are a very gifted leader. But I don’t believe there is anything to worry about.”

That was before Umbara. On Umbara, Jedi General Pong Krell turned on Rex’s battalion and set them against mine, telling them that the enemy was wearing our armor. I lost a lot of good brothers, my guys killed a lot of good brothers, too. Men who had fought valiantly. Men who deserved better. By the end, Krell had just started hacking clones to death himself. Rex’s legion fought and took the monster down. We clones were haunted by it. I had looked positively clairvoyant. The Chancellor called me into his office the moment I returned.

He told me in confidence that there were, in fact, fail-safes in place. After this disaster, he foresaw a future where the Jedi might be out of military affairs altogether. He and now-Admiral Tarkin were already putting it into action. They had formed a Secret Military Police to investigate personnel in order to avoid catastrophes like this from happening. Tarkin was going to set up a military governing body, staffed by natural born military at first. This body would be taking over legal matters, such as clone discipline. The Jedi could go back to meditating, he said. I was concerned that the Jedi had been generals, so they would insist on advising on military matters.

“We can tell them that we don’t have need of their leadership. We have strong and experienced leaders. You were a top academy graduate, were you not?” The Chancellor asked.

“Yes.”

“You already have the loyalty of your men, you have no infractions on record, not even for fraternizing. You are the example of everything I want clones to represent. My advice to you is to give it some time. Do your duty, stay clean. I foresee a future for you.”

“Sir, you mentioned the fail-safes. Am I permitted to ask what they are?” I had been positively destroyed by Umbara. I guess I needed some assurances. Some control.

“Unfortunately, that is classified until I have to make the calls to put it into effect. But if the time comes, and I pray it doesn’t, you, Commander Cody, will be at the top of my list.”

--

I was on the bed in my cell, lying on my back and staring at the ceiling. I had probably slept a little, but I couldn’t remember. My insomnia had gotten worse of late, so I took sleep where I could get it. If only the nightmares would stop, I thought.

I had run afoul of the police for something rather unfair, actually. The other guy had started it. I had just ended it. Of course I ended it. I was the IRC boxing champion in Tipoca City. He shouldn’t have called me that. Nobody should ever call us that. We were the army, we defended their Republic. Where was the gratitude? We were good enough to fight their war and die for them, but not good enough to give respect to? I had heard all the insults. Fake-man, Empty Armor, Jar Born, on and on. They told jokes about us. They mostly just made fun of how we all looked alike, or that we were stupid or unsophisticated. I hadn’t heard anything very creative or well-crafted yet. Then there were the stereotypes. We drank too much, we were always trying to get sex, we were dirty, we had diseases from visiting whores, we did drugs, we were mindless, we were violent, our anatomy must have had defects, we were expendable, we were worthless, we were animals, we were nothing. I had just had enough.

Most of my brothers made fun of themselves. They had gotten the message that we weren’t worth much and they just went along with it. Clone humor always seemed to be at our own expense. I hated that. How were we ever going to get respect if we didn’t give it to ourselves? We were the greatest fighting force ever assembled. We were the descendants of a warrior tradition that extended back thousands of years. We had a noble purpose and loyal devotion to duty. We were an incredible creation. I wondered why more of my brothers didn’t have pride in themselves.

The police droid came in and told me, “Commander Cody, you have been released to the custody of the military for discipline.”

I sat up, “Finally.” I muttered. I wasn’t expecting this arrest to be a problem. I had only been hauled in because the guy I punched called the police. The police only cared because they had to investigate, they were happy to not have to do the paperwork.

To pick me up, I had called Wolffe. Everybody called Wolffe, because he wouldn’t report it. He wouldn’t always come, he was unreliable, but he never put anything on our records. We had been friends since the first year of leadership training and we had always looked out for each other. He always came to get me. It always took forever, though.

As I walked out into the front of the station and found him leaning against the wall. Wolffe had a wicked smirk on his face and was wearing one of those irreverent shirts he liked. This one had the name of a Twi’lek musical group that mostly performed songs about smoking spice. “What a wonderful choice of attire for the police station, you bastard. Next time, get over here sooner.”

He clapped me on the shoulder, “I had just ordered a new drink when you called. I couldn’t just leave. Never leave a man behind.” He was obviously finding this situation hilarious. He thought everything was funny. When I’d called I could hear C.C. laughing. That idiot was practically married to that whore.

He turned to the police droid, “I will take CC-2224 back to the base for disciplinary action. What was his infraction, might I ask?” Oh, he was really enjoying himself.

“CC-2224 was arrested for assault and battery, which was the result of a dispute over the price of a prostitute, so there is also a fraternizing charge.” The droid’s monotone reported.

Wolffe laughed, “Again?” He was going to make the situation worse.

“Wolffe, can we please just go?”

“Yeah, sure.” He shook his head as we walked out. He continued to laugh as we left.

“Oh, shut up.” I frowned at him when we exited the station.

“A ‘thank you’ would be nice.”

“I got your ‘thank you’ right here.” I slapped the back of his head, which only made him laugh more.

We both knew that I could report him at any time for any one of his hundreds of daily infractions against Binks-Palpatine. While I was hauled in for what was a pretty ordinary confrontation, he’d probably been off snorting drugs off some whore’s ass. It seemed like he lived his whole life attempting to insult the Kaminoans and the Republic for how they treated us. He had this attitude that if people assumed those stereotypes, he might as well live up to them. It was a rather juvenile rebellion, you ask me. He was happiest when he was being appalling. He didn’t really want to be arrested, though. Court martials were serious. I would cover for him if there was anything he ever got caught doing, which for some reason he never seemed to. He always covered me when I got caught. No one ever knew about anything.

--

General Kenobi died on Coruscant, taken out by a sniper. As an orphan battalion, the 212th would be reassigned to duty with other generals and broken up. I would be put under a Jedi who would already have a commander. I would not have seniority. Moreover, Kenobi was famous and so we were a high profile battalion. Any other would have been less prestigious. Everything about my future seemed dismal.

Rex told me that Kenobi had expressed to him in confidence that his wishes were that General Skywalker would expand his command and take us over completely. I would have had the rank, but Rex would be the officer with seniority. It really bothered me that Kenobi had never spoken to me about it. But Kenobi and Rex were close friends by then. Rex had gone through optional training with the Jedi in the first year of the war and had certifications for special missions like those Skywalker and Kenobi often led. I had been given the option, but frankly, the prospect of Force training sounded like a waste of time. I believed in the tangible, not magic. The Jedi were impressive, but I could not see how it could be metaphysical. There had to be an explanation. If you don’t believe it, it is impossible to train in it. The more time Rex spent with the Jedi, the closer Rex and Kenobi became. He was given precedence on a lot of missions I was on with him. It could be irritating. Now, I faced the prospect of working for General Skywalker, who treated me no different than anybody else, but who treated my brother like his own.

I was so relieved when I found out that Kenobi’s death had been a hoax. It had only been a few days, but those days had been nerve wracking. I still hadn’t really processed the death of my friend, it hadn’t yet seemed real. I hadn’t been invited to his ‘funeral’ at all. I had never been to a funeral. We clones weren’t permitted them. It seemed a strange concept to us. Death was final. Our bodies were thrown into garbage incinerators. I knew what a funeral was, though. Mandalorian stories were filled with scenes of funerals. They were some of the most beautiful things I’d ever read.

I heard that Kenobi was alive when I bumped into Rex. General Skywalker had told him, in strictest confidence, that Kenobi had gone undercover. That breach of protocol irritated me somewhat. Kenobi never discussed Jedi matters with me. Skywalker had just been so relieved and he wanted Rex to feel relieved too. Never a question of revealing sensitive intelligence, Skywalker just cared about Rex’s feelings. Skywalker was always so reckless!

Rex was at the commissary at Central Command. I didn’t even know he was back. He was just supervising the loading the Republic Nutrition Rations on the Chancellor’s shuttle bound for Naboo. He’d been guarding the Chancellor at General Skywalker’s request but hadn’t had a minute where he was off duty. He hadn’t been off duty for at least ten months. He looked really tired.

--

There was more stress, more sleep deprivation. I wouldn’t use those damned sedatives that the Kaminoan doctors prescribed. The Chancellor said stay clean. I still went to 79’s, it was accepted. The Chancellor had told me to. Drinking helped sometimes, but it took a lot to get me drunk enough to sleep. Sometimes I overshot it. Sometimes I’d black out. If I got out of hand, Wolffe would just put me in the brig to sleep it off. He’d never file paperwork. I still paid for the girls. But the more I went to them, the more I didn’t like them. The pimps or drug dealers either. I hated being around such degenerates, but the only places we were allowed to go in free time were full of them.

I went to this place for lunch one day with some of my men. I was treating the squad that had won target practice that day. All the clones went there. We could get served there, I guess the woman who owned it liked clones. General Mundi’s guys, Mortar and Vin, practically worked there, they were there so much. I was sitting outside with my lunch when the police droids and a human police inspector showed up. I didn’t look up from my meal. Police droids were bad news where clones were concerned.

“Zerlina Grady?” the Lieutenant walked up to the counter.

The owner scowled at them, “What is it this time, Devo?”

“We have reports that you are operating without a proper license.”

“No, I have a license. Just tell me what the fine is for serving military and I’ll pay it. I always do.” She didn’t seem perturbed. I smiled. She wasn’t afraid to stand up for us.

“There are reports from people in the neighborhood who say that you are operating an illegal brothel,” the Lieutenant said flatly. That was news to me, I thought. But I guessed that all of us hanging around all the time might have raised suspicion. It was that stereotype about us, that the only places we went were full of whores. People seemed to think we shared them, since we didn’t have our own women. The woman was risking an awful lot in terms of her own social standing by serving us all the time. It was brave.

She laughed. “That’s absurd. I serve food to clones. And nothing else. So unless you have proof, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” Some of the brothers stepped closer to the droids. They didn’t have to do anything. We could be very intimidating.

“We will be looking into the issue,” the Lieutenant said as he and the droids turned and walked out.

“Yeah, you do that.” She was married and pregnant, just a nice normal woman. She should have been above suspicion, they should have seen that if someone like her could care about us, it was because we were worth caring about. There should have been compassion. Instead, they were doing their best to make her give up and back down.

“I can’t believe that they are still trying to shut me down,” she said to Mortar.

He hugged her, “We won’t let that happen.”

I personally found the whole thing offensive. We couldn’t even have a place to eat in peace without neighbors complaining about us being there, then accusing a woman who just chose to treat us like people as a criminal. They assumed that the only person who would want us around would be a whore. I went inside and she turned to face me.

“Excuse me, ma’am, I have some rather important connections. Maybe I can help.” I was feeling pretty important. I had just come from a meeting with the Chancellor.

“Who, Obi-Wan? He won’t do anything. He would insist that I just obey the law and that I won’t have anything to worry about.” She knew him well, evidently.

“How do you know who my C.O. is?”

“Of course I know you, Cody. I’ve heard a lot about you, actually.” My scars were distinctive. I was happy to hear that people were talking about me. I had been on prestigious missions.

She was nice. She’d taken the time to get to know us as people. She had pictures of clones on the wall, each of us with a name underneath. Lots with goofy smiles, or guys trying to look tough. Pretty juvenile, but we looked just like regular guys. A picture of my brother Rex was right in the middle. It was a picture of him at the establishment.

“I see you know Captain Rex. He’s my best brother.” I pointed at the bulletin board. “He can be a pretty crazy guy.” I was ready to tell tales on him, if she liked stories. I had a funny one.

“I know,” she smiled. “How has he been?”

“Really busy. We had a pretty dangerous mission recently. But the party after was fun. He was talking to all these Togruta girls, joking with them. He had at least two that were completely hitting on him. Then he got so drunk he ended up walking off by himself and sleeping in his armor.”

She laughed but her eyes didn’t. On a shelf behind the counter, I noticed bags of those stupid jumbo krill chips from Mon Cala.

--

Wolffe escorted me out of 79’s and took me to a place near C.C.’s flat. The place knew him so well that they served him and risked the fine. He said he’d pay it if they got one. It was a terrible neighborhood, so the police never went there.

He had come to get me when I had had a bit to drink and one of the girls complained. His shirt this time said ‘Invented Rituals of Intoxication’.

“So what’s wrong, brother?” he asked.

“The whore called me a scum.”

“You smell like scum,” he joked. Never serious.

“Look, I just need to make sure that nobody finds out about this.”

“Why do you even care, brother? All our lives, other beings have been telling us how to be, telling us that our most basic urges are wrong and that we had duty, we had things we were obligated to do if we were good people. They told us we were savages and that they were teaching us some better way to be. Then all they’ve done is take things away from us.” He was laughing a little. I think he only did that so that you would think he was joking.

“We don’t get to decide. Some things are just right and wrong. They made us and we should be grateful.” I knew I was just making excuses.

“Grateful for what? Our whole lives are nothing but suffering. We’re dead before you know it, either in their war or from the premature aging. They should have used a droid army, rather than create beings sentient enough to understand what they are and what they are is their excrement. It is inhumane to make beings just to tell them that they are not free. I have had just about enough of this life.”

“What’s the alternative? We haven’t been given much choice.”

“I choose to have another drink.” He thought he was so damned funny.

--

I was getting angrier. Letting my emotions affect me. It wasn’t like me. I was growing impatient. I visited the Chancellor again.

“The army is broken. More and more guys are going AWOL. It doesn’t help that the Kaminoans are making clones faster and faster, cranking out products that barely pass inspection. And these guys these days were so entitled! Asking questions or demanding to be treated like their betters. It’s a war, I’m their officer. If I give them an order, I expect them to comply, not question me. If every one of them had a say and took time to discuss what’s right to do, we would get our heads blasted off. This job was bestowed on me by my makers, but I earned it. The Kaminoans assessed me to be superior and gave me my rank. It is their duty to the Republic that paid for their creation to obey me. I make sure my men know that there were consequences if you don’t.” I was venting frustration.

“I know, I know, Cody. Unfortunately, most of your fellow commanders don’t share your views. They can be quite lax.”

“Well, most of those men haven’t seen half by battle experience.”

“I assure you, it will all be remedied in time. You just have to trust me.” The Chancellor folded his hands on his desk.

“You know I do, sir.”

--

My brother Rex died. The closest person to me in the whole universe was gone. I had seen him right before he’d shipped out on his last engagement. He had stopped dying or cutting his hair. I didn’t even recognize him. He looked like a shiny just out of the academy. But older.

He was in 79’s raving about some kind of conspiracy, control chips in our heads being used by Count Dooku to make us kill the Jedi. He said he’d learned about it from Skywalker, some kind of plot by the Dark Side of the Force to cause the war and increase suffering. It was so painful to see him brought so low. He claimed that he had already removed his chip and that he would possibly desert the army. He tried to convince Wolffe and me to do the same. Wolffe was so high, he went for it. I was horrified. What were they saying? That we were made imperfectly?

I just had to get out of there. I arranged a meeting in an alley with one of the 79’s girls, but ended up getting jumped by some of my brothers. I put up a good fight, but there were a lot of them. I ended up getting picked up by an officer and brought back to the brig.

“What was that about?” the Captain asked me.

Squads of brothers sometimes gave a guy a beating for ratting on a brother. I’d had no choice, I had seen an enlisted man, Bev, doing drugs on duty. He was endangering himself and others. By this time, Tarkin’s Secret Military Police were handling crimes committed on the base. These police weren’t clones, so there was some friction between them and regular military. Bev got life in prison. But nobody made him do what he did, it was his own fault. Sure, I had sided with the Republic against my brother. We did have a code about not ratting on each other. But we had all sworn an oath of loyalty to the Republic. I had made my choice.

“I think those guys thought I was somebody else.” I managed to talk my way out of it. The Captain did not want to do the paperwork for my discipline, so he let me go.

When Rex was reported among the dead, it didn’t seem real for a few days. I had my duties, so I just went through the motions. It was easier to be busy, then I didn’t have to think. General Kenobi came to see me as soon as he got the chance.

“Cody, I’m so sorry for your loss.” He put a hand on my shoulder, but it made me tense. He removed it rather quickly. “I know how close you two were.” No he didn’t. He couldn’t. He didn’t have a brother.

“Rex was a brilliant warrior. It is a loss to us all.” I wasn’t going to share my feelings with him. He had none. Always so calm.

“Anakin is planning to have his body returned to Coruscant for dissection and study. It sounds cruel I know, but it is the only way that he was able to make sure that Rex didn’t get sent to the incinerator. He said it was important.” Kenobi told me. “We thought you would like to come with us for the autopsy. To see the body so that we can say goodbye.” Damned Skywalker. Damned reckless, over-feeling, flippant, bastard Skywalker had made sure he brought my brother home to me. I considered that man my brother that day.

We were there to meet the shuttle at Central Command. We were led into the lab as the coffin was hovered onto a base for examination. We all stood at the side of the coffin as the Kaminoan opened the lid. She scanned the serial number on his chest armor. “This is CT-7567, his markings confirm it.” They still needed numbers to tell us apart.

I breathed deeply and then looked down at the shattered wreck, my nightmares playing in my mind. The body was only half intact, the limbs had been torn off, probably by an explosion. The side of the face lying on the table was burned down to the skull, all the hair was singed. The single remaining eye was milky and empty.

Skywalker looked shaken and hastily walked out. He didn't look sad. He couldn’t have been feeling half the pain I was. But I stood where I was. Combat conditioning.

There in that stupid box was the award winning loyalty class essay author of ‘Why the Republic is Right about Agriculture.’ There was the youngling who carried a brother on his back even though he was made fun of for it. There was the boy who risked being euthanized for being defective, just to save two injured brothers. There was the guy who was so enthusiastic and curious when I showed him around Central Command for the first time. There was the guy who proved that droids are stupid enough to believe puppets. There was the guy who stupidly fell in love with a girl who stupidly loved him back. There was the guy who had been pushed to his limits only to crack under the strain.

The combat conditioning that was the war had finally broken him. I remembered second year in Tipoca when a guy right before me died in a simulator once. I remember seeing them carry him out and say that he would be flushed down the sewer pipes into the ocean. I needed to do something.

“General Kenobi, Sir?” I asked politely.

“Yes, Cody?” he said softly. We didn’t want the Kaminoan to hear us. He was stroking his beard as if he was pondering a mystery.

“May I please take Rex’s ashes after he’s incinerated. I would like to treat them with some reverence.”

“Yes, Cody. A funeral sounds like a fine idea.”

He told the Kaminoan to give the ashes to me and that I would deliver them to the waste disposal. She politely agreed. One less thing for her to worry about. Haar'chak, people were apathetic by the end of the war.

She gave me Rex’s ashes in a small waste bag. I felt ridiculous walking out of the facility carrying them, so I started talking to ‘Rex’. I was doing my Obi-Wan impression, which always made him laugh. My impression was good. “So Rex, I suppose you will never be getting that promotion to Commander. I think Appo has been waiting for you to die, he wants a promotion badly. Do you think the prostitutes at the Tchun Tchin are getting uglier, I have noticed it lately.” In Kenobi’s dry, emotionless tone, these phrases sounded hilarious. I used to make Rex laugh for hours doing this. So juvenile.

Mandalorian funerals traditionally involved burning on a pyre. Rex was already ashes. I tried to think of something else that might be appropriate. We came from a water world, so I thought that it was only right to dispose of him in the water. I remembered how much Rex liked swimming. The closest body of water I could think of on Coruscant was the pond in the gardens at the Jedi Temple. I waited until it was late and there was no one around. I had clearance to enter the Temple, so I went straight through with no problem. I looked like I was carrying my lunch.

I sat by the pond a long time, just thinking about my little brother. Finally, I started speaking to the ashes again.

“Well, vod'ika (little brother), I guess we won’t be finishing the mission together this time. I will miss our post-mission tradition.” We would share a drink, just the two of us together and try to speak just Mando’a. I was noticing he was getting better. Still learning, ever a spaz. “I was so worried about you. You were dangerously close to dar’manda (losing your heritage) sometimes. We were made to be loyal to the Republic and the Republic alone. You didn’t stay true to that and you were led astray. I did always admire your shereshoy (lust for life). Your happiness could be infectious. But you had your weaknesses too. You were too often harc b’aalyc (drunk), but so am I. You were very stubborn, but so am I, vod'ika. I know I am. We were so alike. But you made your choices, I could not make them for you, I couldn’t protect you. I feel like I failed you brother. Maybe I should assign myself cleaning duty. Oh, wait, I don’t discipline anyone any more. The Military Police do that now. No more cleaning duty. Hello brig time.”

I pulled a small box out of my belt. It was uj’alayi, a Mandalorian cake that we had sampled for dessert when we visited the planet. It was overly sweet. But still better than Republic Nutrition Rations.

“So what do you think happens when you die? No one ever told me. But I know that you and Kenobi used to have conversations about it. Just the two of you. Why do you think he liked me less than you? I don’t know. You got lucky with Skywalker. He valued you as an equal. He gave you freedom. He even called you ‘First in Command’. He knew about respect. All I ever got was told that I should listen because the Republic would teach me a better way. Jeez, now I sound like Wolffe. Anyway, I don’t judge you because you got impatient. I agree with you in principle, that we deserve better. But we cannot work against the system. That doesn’t get us power, that gets us martyrdom. You must be enjoying that.”

I chewed the cake and pondered. “You were the best of us, little brother, we both know I have more flaws than you. But I had the vision and the patience. I will do my best to honor your legacy. I’ll never forget what General Kenobi said when I asked him how wars are ended. ‘Young men make wars, and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men, courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men, mistrust and caution. It must be so.’” I did my best Obi-Wan impression. “Well, for a clone, I guess I am old. There are very few of us first generation guys left. Wolffe went to Cato Nemoidia. He actually gave me his ‘Invented Rituals of Intoxication’ shirt. He said I’d won the drinking contest, lifetime achievement award. Idiot. He’s appalling as usual.” I smiled.

I pulled out and chugged a flask of liquor. I waited until I felt pretty good and drunk. I had had a few drinks back at my quarters at Central Commmand as a warmup. More than a few, actually. I had even set a glass in front of the ash bag for 'Rex'. So I was pretty loaded.

Then I attempted a funeral chant. Mando’a has some really impressive ones. I thought it would be appropriate to chant in Basic, because it was the official language of the Republic that we served. Mandalore had just been a fairy tale land to us anyway. He had been right, the Mandalorians had been staring at us like they didn’t want us in there. They never accepted us clones as their own. Our sacred bond, our oath, was what bound us to the Republic. Not any glancing connection to an already corrupted tradition. Still, out of respect for that tradition and the gifts it gave us clones, I did chant. I had tried to be poetic. It felt poetic when I set pen to paper. It was no Aay'han, but I tried.

But somehow I could not feel like anything more than a youngling I had known in the academy. He had been normal one day and then took a blow to the head and couldn’t do anything but repeat little scripts he’d memorized, over and over. He was taken in for euthanasia after two days. I felt like that’s how I sounded. I guess it is all in the delivery. I never was very good as a performer. I am too conscious of myself. I should have brought C.C., I thought. She could sing with enough emotion to make you cry. Prostitutes are usually great performers. It helped keep the parties fun.

I poured the ashes into the water as I chanted. When I finished the chant, I felt relieved. I’d started to talk faster the more awkward I felt, so I had rushed through it. It made me sound more ridiculous as I sped through the solemn chant. I picked up my helmet from the bench and put my forehead against it. It was a Mandalorian tradition to honor the fallen. A way of saying ‘I still see you, you still belong to my family’. I put the helmet back on my head and left the Temple. That was, as far as I know, the only funeral for a clone that ever occurred. The Republic still wasn’t grateful to us.

--

I slugged a guy who was trying to bait some of my brothers to fight him so that he could get them sent to jail. This was sport for him. The luxury of the natural born. The military police picked me up. They didn’t let me call anyone. They brought in my Jedi general. I was sure the general would be furious. He just sighed and said, “Thank you officers. Good night.” I walked out beside him. Once we were outside he turned to me, “Cody, I’m very worried about you. But what could possibly have possessed you?” He sounded disappointed. It made me angry. Like he had any right to judge me. “I understand what he was doing was wrong, but what you did is serious. That man, whatever you think of his actions, could have been hurt. He is a citizen of the Republic.” Bastard had more rights than I did. “Do you want to be court martialed? Or worse? I need you with me, you’re my second in command, men are depending on us to lead them. You can’t go to prison.” Second in command. Always second in command.

But I swallowed it. I gritted my teeth and just said, “I apologize, General Kenobi, it will not happen again.” He didn’t report it or discipline me. After all those years of making me discipline my men practically to the maximum. He just told me that he forgave me and that he considered the failure partly his. Why don’t you go scrub a floor with me? I really hated that son of a bitch right then.

--

Loyalty and honor, the Mandalorians kind of squandered it with me. Let them reject me. Then they collapsed under deals they made with criminals. I couldn't feel bad for them. Kenobi squandered it with me. He did not give me his preference, nor his respect as an equal. He never stood up for me the way Skywalker did for Rex so often. Those three showed more brotherhood to each other than any of them did for me.

I was on Utapau and the capital city had been nearly secured. General Kenobi had engaged General Grievous and had reported back to me that it was a confirmed kill. He sent me the location of the body so that we could pick it up for proof. We had to show the systems in the Separatist Alliance that their leader really was dead. The Republic channels had shown Dooku’s head on the holo-net. It was gruesome, but no one could doubt it was him.

I had picked up Kenobi’s lightsaber from where it had dropped from a higher level. He came back to retrieve it and rode off on his varactyl. I heard my special com with an open channel only to the Chancellor’s office. These had been issued to officers late in the war when the Chancellor had sensed that the threat was approaching.

We were ready to execute our duty. I was actually looking forward to the moment. I had waited so long. The hologram of the Chancellor appeared, but he looked different, older. I couldn’t see his face. “Commander Cody, the time has come. Execute Order 66.” My whole body went stiff, like it used to do in combat conditioning. I locked in place. Our brains did have a chip in them, I could feel it suddenly. A chip that would tell us what to do. We were the fail-safes the Chancellor had in place to save the Republic in time of extreme threat. I suddenly knew that it was time for us to kill the Jedi. I looked back at Boil who was seated at the cannon, “Blast him!” I ordered. My brother didn’t hesitate. Then, just as soon as the chip had been activated, I felt it deactivate, I could control my body again. I looked at the ground, I hoped that I’d done the right thing.

--

General Skywalker died at the Jedi Temple, or so most people assume. They never confirmed nor denied his passing. I think they were afraid of people making him a martyr. Citizens, clones, droids, everybody loved him. If the Republic had to admit to killing him, they would have had hell to pay. The Jedi from the massacre were buried in a mass grave below the temple. It was already turning into a place of reverence for some. I had told some of my brothers about Rex’s funeral. Someone had painted blue jaig eyes on the wall near the pond. The temple was remade into the Imperial Palace. Officialdom and the makeshift shrines had a weird dichotomy.

The Republic was the New Way. I gave my loyalty and honor to the Republic and the Republic alone. Then to the Empire it became. Rex, General Skywalker and Kenobi had been conflicted. I couldn’t save them. Still, I remain proud to say that they were my best friends.

Ni su'cuyi, gar kyr'adyc, ni partayli, gar darasuum. 'I'm still alive, but you are dead. I remember you, so you are eternal.'